For fans of professional football, the NFL lockout ending created a tremendous sense of relief. Sure, we missed very little in terms of the actual game, but that hasn't stopped everyone from the cheers of "football is back!" Now, fans anxiously sit in front of their laptop, following updates from every source imaginable to see if their team signs the big free agent that shores up one of the big holes plaguing their roster.
The days of major "free agents" in mixed martial arts appear to be dead. We're no longer in the period when a guy like Tito Ortiz, Dan Henderson or Randy Couture could test the waters outside Zuffa looking for bigger paydays and more control over their career. Now, it's only men like Nate Marquardt, discarded by Zuffa or prospects having to choose between signing with Bellator or holding out for the call from the UFC.
While there have been plenty of major "free agency" stories in the history of mixed martial arts, none were quite as big as Fedor Emelianenko.
During his time in PRIDE, Fedor became a living legend. Having only suffered one career loss, and that being a controversial cut stoppage on an illegal blow, the unassuming looking Emelianenko was something more than a fighter. So when Zuffa bought PRIDE it was thought to be only a matter of time before Fedor was fighting in the Octagon.
Instead, the two sides could not come to an agreement and we saw Fedor waste 2007 fighting middleweight Matt Lindland in BodogFIGHT and freakishly large kickboxer Hong-Man Choi.
After the Lindland fight UFC president Dana White had talked about the Fedor signing as though it was close to a done deal saying "I think that Fedor, right now, the word is he wants to fight in this Sambo event, but I won't let him fight in it if he's with us. I think he's going to wait until he fights in this thing in October, November, and we'll probably come to a deal with him at the end of this year or the beginning of next year... What we'd want to do is, we'd want to know who is the best heavyweight in the world. So if we sign Fedor, Fedor comes right in and fights Randy Couture for the title."
Following the Choi fight, Fedor would sign with the upstart Affliction MMA promotion, trouncing former UFC champion Tim Sylvia with ease in his first fight. Again, talk of a fight with Couture surfaced as Randy entered the ring following Fedor's victory but Randy's legal battle with the UFC killed the fight again. Fedor would go on to knock out Andrei Arlovski in his next fight before the promotion collapsed under much too large contracts and Josh Barnett's positive steroid test before his fight with Emelianenko in Affliction's third (and likely last) event.
With Affliction gone, it appeared that the best heavyweight the sport had ever seen would finally make his way to the octagon. In fact, Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole reported:
Affliction itself is fighting simply for survival. Several sources have said that Affliction and Strikeforce will have some type of merger with Strikeforce retaining its name. Affliction's Tom Atencio denied any merger is imminent, and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker is in Italy on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment.
However, two independent sources told Yahoo! Sports a deal is either completed or on the verge of completion.
What appeared to be a done deal soon took a surprising turn as Fedor and his M-1 Global management team continued to be unable to agree to terms with Zuffa and chose instead to take his game to Strikeforce.
"I'm in Abu Dhabi right now and my reaction is Fedor is a [expletive] joke. [He] turns down a huge deal and the opportunity to face the best in the world to fight nobodies, for no money. Fedor is a [expletive]."
Fedor would go on to defeat Brett Rogers by thunderous knockout in his first Strikeforce bout before falling into a triangle choke and suffering his first loss in ten years against Fabricio Werdum. He would follow that up with the worst performance of his career as Antonio Silva pounded the legend, stopping him after two rounds of punishment.
Zuffa would purchase Strikeforce, finally having Fedor on a roster that they controlled. But they did not have the unstoppable machine that was FEDOR, they have a former great riding a two fight losing streak looking to a fight with a light heavyweight in Dan Henderson to get his career back on track.
For almost four years the story of Fedor and the UFC was always in the background of the sport. It was the story that always seemed a moment away from breaking and in the end Zuffa gained some control over Fedor's contract but only once he became much less desirable.
With Zuffa owning the UFC and Strikeforce and no other promotions that can compete on the major sport level, the days of major free agency stories like that of Fedor are dead in MMA. And I, for one, will kind of miss it.